Smithfield will be new ‘centre of the City’

Friday 12 August 2016

The team behind the competition-winning scheme to create a new home for the Museum of London was at the NLA this morning to talk through the project and help reposition West Smithfield as the new centre of the City of London.

Stanton Williams director Paul Williams said the competition proposals, developed alongside Asif Khan over just seven weeks and including two site visits was ‘more than the CGIs’ and entailed a complex vision to ‘orchestrate’ the new spaces. One of the biggest moves the team made is to put both permanent and temporary spaces underground to encourage the public to move through the ‘sedimentary layers’ of the scheme on what is an ‘amazing site’. ‘We were totally blown away by the physicality of it’, said Williams. ‘We knew that had to be harnessed and not lost’.

Museum of London director Sharon Ament said the project was driven by the Museum’s desire to radically change and move away to a more vibrant, accessible place and leave behind the inherent problems of its current Rotunda building, opened in 1976. The museum was nevertheless ‘bursting at the seams with people’, with 1.25 million visitors per year, said Ament, and the new look museum will be both grounded in history but also look to the contemporary and future. ‘It’s important to tell the story of London’, she said.

The winning scheme, chosen from a shortlist by a panel including Simon Jenkins (who praised the process as the best he has ever seen), puts temporary and permanent collections underground beneath ‘expressed arches’, where other ideas at this stage include creating an aperture to allow visitors to see passing underground trains. Williams said the design team wanted to evoke something of the magic of ‘Narnia’ in drawing visitors down and through into ‘something special’, and that there will be a ‘public house’ area beneath the 16m-wide Smithfield dome, plus an ‘incubator crust’ for other institutions – perhaps even the NLA and SAVE – and the public. The plans also include a rooftop restaurant, café and terrace, potentially with cast bricks to reference icehouses, an indoor theatre and a sunken garden, as well as a possible tunnel beneath a tunnel to link to the poultry ‘wing’ temporary galleries. There was also the possibility, encouraged session chair Pat Brown, to develop meanwhile uses for the Smithfield site before the museum relocates.

Speaking via Skype from Japan, Asif Khan said that being involved in such a project was an exciting proposition, and that he hoped this ‘heart of a building’ could be allowed to beat once more after a long absence. ‘Every nerve in my body gets tingled when I speak about this project’, he said.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly 

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THIS EVENT IS NOW FULLY BOOKED. We will record the talk and upload the video to this event page shortly after the event. With the Museum of London planning its move to the historic West Smithfield, this breakfast talk will hear from the Museum on the competition process to design its new home, and from the winning team led by Stanton Williams and Asif Khan.